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Mother Advocates to End Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

4 years 2 months 27 minutes ago Tuesday, December 27 2016 Dec 27, 2016 December 27, 2016 6:38 PM December 27, 2016 in News

MCALLEN - A Rio Grande Valley mother said she’s trying to make life a little easier for her children who were diagnosed with a mental illness.

McAllen resident Anita Zarate is very familiar with mental health issues.

“In high school, I did suffer from teen depression, and I was also struggling with diagnosed attention deficit disorder,” she said.

Zarate said dealing with both was difficult as a teenager. She said she had difficulty grasping certain subjects.

“For me, if you have to focus really hard on one thing, I don’t function well. I have to have several different things going on. The more stimulation, the better,” she said.

Zarate said her depression became manageable as she got older. However, her son now has autism with Asperger’s tendencies.

“With my son, I always knew there was something. And when he was first diagnosed, I was never comfortable with the diagnosis because I felt it was wrong,” she said.

The mother said her son’s diagnosis became a mental hurdle.

“A lot of times I felt like I was failing my son in not being able to help him accomplish things that he should have been able to accomplish at the correct age,” she said.

Eight years later after her son was diagnosed, Zarate said doctors determined her daughter also had autism.

“My daughter was a lot easier, because I had experienced it with my son. My children are eight years apart, so I had eight years of learning,” she said. “I was able to see the problems to begin with and start immediately just doing behavioral therapies or different types of trainings, which made a big difference in her and has made things easier for her.”

Roxanne Pacheco is a licensed counselor at Hope Family Health Center in McAllen. She said mental health issues are often considered taboo.

“In society or in our community, the norm is you don’t say anything. You stay quiet about it and that creates a lot of shame,” she said. “It creates also difficulty for individuals who maybe have a medical condition, and they don’t know they have that and the symptoms are there.”

Zarate said her battle with depression also prepared her to parent children with autism.

Pacheco agreed that first-hand knowledge can be helpful for people dealing with a mental illness. She said the center offers a peer program for these types of cases.

“(The) peer program is for an individual who has previously gone through a mental health diagnosis and has healed through her own journey,” she said. “She has been able to reach a state where she can turn around and give back to others who are coming in here, because she has already been there.”

The counselor said family members can sometimes shame the people they love from coming forward about their mental issues.

Zarate advised people need to be more open-minded with someone who suffers a mental illness. She said she’ll continue to work to make her children’s world a better place where they can feel safe and accepted.  

The Hope Family Health Center is one of many places across the Rio Grande Valley that offer help to those dealing with mental health issues. 

For more stories and information visit Heart of the Valley: Mental Health.

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